Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 8 Crime and Misbehavior


It  is quite likely that people have exhibited poor behavior and misbehavior and even criminal behavior for as long as there have been human communities.  It is certain that such behaviors existed before computer technologies.  With the increase in human instrumentation - the capacity for action- there has been both the exhibition of such behaviors in new ways and also entirely new sorts of misbehavior and new crimes.  

There are many examples of misbehavior or poor etiquette or even violations of something now known as "netiquette".  There are also examples of familiar crimes being committed in new ways.  One of the most interesting of phenomena are forms of behavior involving computer technologies that evolve from simply bad taste or misconduct and range al the way to criminal acts.   Further , there is the exploration or discussion of the morality of those acts that are moving in the public consciousness so that the acts have moved from being considered simply misconduct to criminal acts.  The path from bad etiquette to significantly serious enough to warrant being considered as a violation of morality is primarily through the notion of harming others.  How harmful and what types of harms will lead to a conclusion that an act is immoral and not just impolite?  When enough people think that the harm is substantial enough the political forces often move to make the acts or the new forms of harm criminal acts.

There appears in the minds of some a new attitude towards relating to others in the cyberspace or the cybersphere.  What is simply bad behavior and what is criminal?  What acts are so violative of basic values and moral sensibilities to be made into criminal acts?

READ:: crime_and_puzzlement Part 1  Desperados of the DataSphere   John Perry Barlow Part 1

Old crimes with new tools:

  • forgery or counterfeiting using computer technologies
  • Stealing information stored on the hard disk inside the computer is the same crime as stealing a briefcase that contains papers with proprietary information
  • Using computers to solicit sex is similar to other forms of solicitation of sex
  • Using computers to commit either larceny or fraud.
  • impersonation, forgery, deceit, or fraud by sending E-mails with bogus addresses or names or posting messages in a newsgroup or bulletin board with a false name that is intended to harm the reputation of the real person of that name or another person.

New Crimes -the FBI estimates computer losses at up to $10 billion a year.

  • Computer voyeur. Unauthorized persons  read (or copy) confidential or proprietary information, but data is neither deleted nor changed.
  • Changing data. e.g., Unauthorized persons change a grade on a school transcript, add "money" to a checking account, etc.
  • Deleting data. Unauthorized persons deleting entire files could be an act of vandalism or sabotage.
  • altering websites
  • malicious computer programs
  • malicious code
    malicious program
    malware   (by analogy with "software")
    rogue program
  • virus
  • worm
  • Trojan Horse
  • logic bomb
  • hoax
  • Harassment & Stalking
  • Parasitic Computing
  • Denial of Servic (DoS) Attacks-This is becoming a common networking prank. By hammering a Web site' s equipment with too many requests for information, an attacker can effectively clog the system, slowing performance or even crashing the site. This method of overloading computers is sometimes used to cover up an attack.

  • Password Crackers- Software that can guess passwords
  • War Dialing-Programs that automatically dial thousands of telephone numbers in search of a way in through a modem connection.

  • Sniffer-Programs that covertly search individual packets of data as they pass through the Internet, capturing passwords or the entire contents.

  • Spoofing-Faking an e-mail address or Web page to trick users into passing along critical information like passwords or credit-card numbers.

For more information on the sorts of acts that are or become criminal :

READ: Essay that surveys computer crime:Dr. R. Standler  Attorney Specializing in Computer Law

READ:: Cybercrime: A Tutorial from Business Week: February 21, 2000.

Web Spoofing: An Internet Con Game, by Edward W. Felten, Dirk Balfanz, Drew Dean, and Dan S. Wallach

Essay on computer viruses and worms, Dr. R. Standler

READ: Practical hints for users on how to avoid computer crimeDr. R. Standler,

Essay on how to recognize hoaxes about computer viruses  Dr. R. Standler,

The issues here are when does behavior become immoral?  Not all criminal behavior is immoral and not all immoral behavior is criminal.  With reference to computer technologies based on what considerations would some of the forms of behavior listed above become violations of ethical principles and become considered as not morally correct?

How are people to attempt to control socially undesirable and morally incorrect behavior?

Category of Offense Behavior
Netiquette violation Spamming  Flaming
Disruptive Worm
Destructive virus
  • hacking
  • parasitic computing
  • credit card fraud
  • identity theft
  • cyberstalking

Some behavior is disruptive and some is destructive.  How far must it go to become illegal as well?

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents